The house of last week’s Preservation Photos #232. This 1867 house was built by the A.C. Hopson and is known as one of the earliest and most outstanding examples of French Second Empire style in Vermont. It was the home of Ira Allen, a prominent Fair Haven businessman. Today the house is the Marble Mansion Inn.
A train depot is a type of structure that is easily recognizable by many people, partially because it is adjacent to railroad tracks and partially because of its form and massing. Tell tale features to look for include 1) a bay window or projection from the building that would offer a better line of sight, 2) a long, narrow building, usually with a gable or hipped roof, 3) large freight doors on one end and pedestrian sized doors on another, and 4) infrastructure for signals on and near the building.
This depot in Fair Haven,VT was constructed c. 1890 in order to service the nearby slate quarries in addition to passenger traffic. It is a historically significant structure. The railroad owns the building and was an Amtrak stop (not station) until 2010, when Amtrak left Fair Haven in favor of Castleton, VT (located five miles east). Currently it sits abandoned and neglected. Well, I consider it abandoned because of the neglect. Officially, this building has an owner. The painted plywood windows and doors serve as a detraction from its neglect, but the building is suffering from masonry deterioration.
Aside from neglect, the good news is that the building appears secure (save for lots of critters). The bad news is that there are no plans by the railroad or by the town to do anything with the depot. (I could be mistaken, however, and I hope I am.) Train depots are iconic buildings that all people can connect to whether due to memories or movies or the lure of trains. If you have a train depot in your area, contact your local officials and potentially interested organizations – get your town geared up for a rehabilitation project! Need some success stories? Check out the Swanton Railroad Museum, the Green Mountain Coffee Roasters Cafe or the South Londonderry Depot. Find others here.
Transportation related structures benefit immensely from the Transportation Enhancements Grants program, which is severely at risk right now. Please tell your legislators how important TEs are to your community. Remember this post? The Importance of Transportation Enhancement Grants to Historic Preservation.
Sprawl and poor development decisions pop up everywhere; infill that adversely effects its surroundings can happen almost anywhere, even in a historic district in picturesque Vermont.
Let’s use Fair Haven as an example. Traveling through Fair Haven, VT on VT Route 22A or VT Route 4 you’ll pass well kept historic buildings; the highways lead to a large open town green surrounded by historic commercial blocks, civic buildings, and significant homes overlooking the green, including two historic residences constructed of marble. This area is the Fair Haven Green Historic District, listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
While driving into town from Route 4A West, something jumped out at me. See below.
What? Dollar General sits next to the Fair Haven Free Library, a 1908 Carnegie Library. And on the other side is the Fair Haven Grade School – in another historic building.
This is located in the Fair Haven Green Historic District – a nondescript modern strip mall type shopping building sandwiched in between two architecturally significant buildings and adjacent to many more. It’s like a slap in the face – and it’s not even my town!
It gets worse. Take a walk further down the green and this is your vantage point:
Taken out of context, this library now looks like it’s the owner of the Dollar General sign. How did this happen? Granted it is just a sign, but in a state that outlawed billboards and in a historic district like Fair Haven, it’s unfathomable. You could say that a sign isn’t a billboard, but if you consider relative size to the building it’s in front of, that Dollar General sign might as well be a billboard. And to clarify, I’d have the same opinion regardless of the sign in front of the building. This is not an issue of Dollar General, although I was ready to be up in arms about yet another Dollar General. However, Google Maps shows the street view as a Ben Franklin store in the same building with an equally large sign in the same location.
Unfortunately, I cannot find any information about the development of this lot. The questions to ask are: (1) How did this happen? (2) Was it a question of zoning? (3) Why did no one stop it? (4) Why wasn’t a better infill design chosen for this lot? (5) Has the Town fixed the problem so this doesn’t happen again?
I’d consider this a cautionary tale, especially as small scale sprawl continues to be a threat. Since it’s not a strip mall, it’s easier to slip through the cracks. Chain stores are not necessarily the main issue here – poor “architecture” is the bigger problem of the moment. Be on the lookout, because poor development results in adverse effects to historic properties and districts and a decrease in quality of life (it’s all connected).